Leaning On and Learning from Others
After Taylor Eastridge sustained a traumatic brain injury, she and her husband, Tyler, found support at Shepherd Center.
Taylor Eastridge lives with her husband, Tyler, and their two young daughters in a small town just west of Gainesville, Florida. Taylor loves math and teaches economics at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. She also bakes a mean oatmeal-raisin cookie.
On a rainy day in June of last year, Taylor’s car hydroplaned and hit a light post. Taylor sustained multiple injuries, including a traumatic brain injury (TBI). She was admitted to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where she spent close to three weeks before transferring to the Disorders of Consciousness Program, which is part of Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program.
Taylor does not remember much about the weeks she spent inpatient at Shepherd but says she does remember re-learning how to walk — and feeling that the staff really cared.
“I was so confused about why I was there, but I remember everyone was really sweet, and they provided me with more things than I even asked for,” Taylor recalls.
Tyler appreciated the continuity of care for Taylor.
“The nurses were amazing,” he says. “Having the same nurses was big for me because they knew Taylor, and they knew me, and we were able to build a relationship. They were invested — all the nurses in inpatient, all the therapists, you could tell they were passionate about it, and they cared.”
While Taylor worked on swallowing, talking, and walking, Tyler turned to peer support and family education programs to learn more about how to support Taylor and handle the uncertain path of her recovery.
One program in which he participated, called “Getting There,” was part of a brain injury patient caregiver research study. To assess the value of peer-led intervention, Shepherd's staff adapted a curriculum created at the Self-Management Resource Center in Stanford, California, to fit Shepherd’s acute rehabilitation setting. For “Getting There,” Tyler was assigned a peer mentor, Mariellen Jacobs, whose son had previously sustained a brain injury.
“I looked forward to talking to Mariellen every week. That was the best therapy I could have asked for because I didn't know what was going to happen,” Tyler recalls. “Typically, when you go through an injury, say, a broken arm, there’s a standard recovery time. The brain is completely different, so hearing Mariellen’s experience and knowing that some of the things I was experiencing weren’t uncommon and that there was hope encouraged me.
Taylor and Tyler also relied on their faith and were glad to be able to attend services at Shepherd, led by Shepherd Center’s chaplains.
“Having a church service in-house, once Taylor was able to go, it was good getting back into the routine and getting the encouragement,” Tyler recalls.
The couple focused on Taylor’s recovery, and their parents pitched in, staying nearby and helping take care of the girls. After six weeks inpatient, Taylor graduated and transitioned to Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd Center’s comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injury. She and Tyler took advantage of Shepherd family housing for a month to ease the transition.
At Pathways, Taylor shared a goal with her therapist.
“I told her that I wanted to get to a point where I could play with my girls and carry them,” Taylor explains.
So, Taylor’s youngest joined a therapy session.
“We played outside, and I practiced carrying her because I was so weak at the time — she was really heavy,” Taylor laughs.
As parts of Taylor’s memory return, she’s rebuilding and rediscovering her relationship with her daughters.
“Before the accident, anything that they would do, I would do with them — we had an intense relationship. But for a few months after the accident, I did not remember our relationship, so I felt like I was building a new one. It wasn’t until February of this year that the memories of the relationship that I had with them started to come back.”
Taylor is spending time with her girls, embracing her baking hobby, and running. She has returned to teaching, and she’s continuing therapy close to home. She and Tyler are working with a team to start a nonprofit to provide support, including funding for transportation and housing, to families of people who sustain multiple traumatic injuries in the Gainesville area. One of their goals is to raise awareness and funds by hosting a 5K run. They hope to hold the first 5K in spring 2024.
“We want to use what we learned in the worst times of our lives to help other people while they're going through the worst times in their lives,” Tyler explains. “I'm still learning —learning how to adapt and how to overcome. It’s an ongoing process.”
Written by Ruth Underwood
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.